Chaos is a part of our shared experience. Be it external like a breakup, illness, the stock market, a storm or on the streets of Tehran. Or internal like when plans are dashed, expectations go unmet, or hopes get extinguished.
This morning, we find the disciples in the midst of chaos in a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. Their heads are still spinning from a series of parables about the Kingdom of God being as big as a mustard plant, when Jesus suggests that they head across the Sea into Gentile territory. Having enough fishermen in his crew, Jesus takes the opportunity to rest in the stern of the boat. While he naps, chaos is unleashed. A storm blows in, waves crash against the boat, water is pouring over the sides. The disciples' minds begin to race. The sea [for the 1st Century Israelites] [had come] to symbolize the dark power of evil, threatening to destroy God's good creation, God's people, God's purposes They "think of Jonah... [whose] storm was only calmed when, at Jonah's prompting, the sailors threw him overboard. Or [perhaps they thought of their ancestors], coming out of Egypt when God blew with a mighty wind and made a way through the sea. [Maybe they went] even further back, to the stories of creation, when God's order... emerged from the dark primal sea. ." (Wright, 52). And there they were, beholden to the chaos swirling both beneath them and within them.
"Jesus! Jesus! Wake up! Don't you care that we are sinking? That we are all going to die?" Chaos and panic had swept through the boat, and yet Jesus was still sleeping, peacefully, calmly in the stern.
Chaos is the great equalizer. When life doesn't work out as planned, the chaos of the outside quickly, quietly, and all to easily moves inside. We all know that experience. You might have had plans for your career that didn't pan out, or for your children, or for your retirement, or whatever. Plans that go unfilled create storms; sometimes big squalls, sometimes little thundershowers, but always a storm arises. and our response is often, "Don't you care!?!"
Back on the boat, Jesus hears the cries of his disciples and awakes. I like Tom Wright's translation of what happens next, "He got up, scolded the wind, and said to the sea, 'Silence! Shut up!" (51) Jesus didn't keep the storm from coming, and he didn't wave his hand peaceably over the water, but he shouted "Shut up!" I like that Jesus wakes up in the same sort of mood as me. However he did it, the wind died down and the sea became calm. Chaos, for the moment, seems to have been thwarted.
And yet. And yet, we are told by Mark that the fear and the chaos has just begun for the disciples. The NRSV tells us that they were in great awe of Jesus as he rebuked the wind and the waves, but what the Greek really says there is something like, "they feared a great fear." In that moment when external chaos became peace they were able to see for the first time that the One they were following wasn't just a charismatic teacher who could do some healing and exorcise some demons. They were terrified when they realized that they were on board with the One Through Whom All Things Were Made. Being on board with God should have been enough for them, but they still needed action. "Don't you care" they cried out, but he did, he cared enough to sleep in the stern of the boat.
See, the great lesson of discipleship is that even when it appears as though God is allowing the chaos to continue - he is there. He was on the boat with the disciples in the midst of the storm, he continued to walk with them through the years of chaos that lay ahead, and he is in your life, walking right alongside, no matter the circumstances. The calming of the sea was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of event. But walking with Jesus in the midst of the chaos is something that all of us, can do every moment of every day. To walk with Jesus is to walk in peace even in as the storm rages all around. It isn't just something that happened once to a few guys a long time ago, but something that happens here and now for each of us. With the presence of God at our side, we can have peace even in the wildest storms, the most overwhelming chaos, the darkest of nights. (Barclay, 133)
Where is the chaos in your life? Is it the stock market? Is it an illness. Is it a child who just can't seem to make the right decision? What are you afraid of? Is it the storm? Or is it the realization that you've been walking with God Almighty all along? "Time and time again in Scripture the word is, 'Do not be afraid.' It is the first and the last word of the gospel. It is the word the angels speak to the terrified shepherds and the word spoken at the tomb when the women discover it empty: 'Do not be afraid.' Not because there are not fearsome things on the sea of our days, not because there are no storms, fierce winds, or waves, but rather, because God is with us....even though there are real and fearsome things in this life, they need not paralyze us; they need not have dominion over us; they need not own us, because we are not alone in the boat." (Huey, i.ucc) And we are not alone on the journey of life. God Almighty, who walks alongside us, is not a God of wrath and vengeance, but a God of grace and forgiveness. In the midst of the chaos of life's storms, he is there barking commands at the wind and the waves. While at the same time, offering us not words of anger - why are you still afraid - but words of comfort - have faith, I am here with you. The storms will come, the waves will batter our boats, chaos will continue to be a universal truth, but God is here offering peace. The temptation is to cry out, "Don't you care!?!" to call on Jesus to take action, but the reality is, even asleep in the back of the boat, having Jesus with us is enough, it has to be enough. Accept his peace. Accept his comfort. Accept his love. Even in the chaos. Amen.